Auctions and Brokerage
Ella Fitzgerald, Los Angeles, California (acquired new in 1959)Rolf Meyer, Schiffdorf, Germany (acquired from the estate of the above in 1997)Private Collection, Germany (acquired from the estate of the above in 2003)Dr. Gottfried Gothe, Bochum, Germany (acquired from the above in 2006)Current Owner (acquired from the above)
Far more becoming of the marque’s prewar luxury reputation than the utilitarian models of the late 1940s, Mercedes-Benz’s 300 series – introduced in 1951 – was a true luxury sedan built on a long wheelbase of near-limousine proportions. Equipped with a stout overhead-cam inline six, the 300 offered hand-built quality and superior performance.
In 1957, the ultimate variant appeared in the 300 D, with advanced Bosch fuel injection and an optional BorgWarner automatic transmission. These features resulted in greatly improved performance, with the engine developing 160 hp and propelling the car to a top speed of over 100 mph. Though nearly 3,100 sedans were produced between 1957 and 1962, just 65 open cars were made during this period, making the 300 D Cabriolet one of the most exclusive luxury automobiles of the era and one of the rarest Mercedes-Benz cabriolets.
The 300 D Cabriolet presented here boasts a remarkable provenance: It was originally built for Ella Fitzgerald, arguably the world’s most famous jazz singer, and remained in her care from its delivery in 1959 until her death in 1996.
Hailed as both “The First Lady of Song” and “The Queen of Jazz,” Ms. Fitzgerald was a worldwide star and one of the most influential singers in the history of recorded music. During her six-decade career she sold more than 40 million albums, became a film and television actress, and collaborated with music legends, such as Louis Armstrong, Cole Porter, and Duke Ellington. Her many achievements include more than 14 Grammy Awards, the National Medal of Arts, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, and countless other lifetime achievement awards, tributes, and honors. The fact that the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and the Library of Congress maintain her archival material and personal music arrangements is a powerful testament to Ella Fitzgerald’s influence on American music.
As documented in factory records, Ms. Fitzgerald ordered this 300 D Cabriolet through Mercedes-Benz of North America in fall 1959 and personally selected each feature, including the elegant color scheme of Blue Grey (DB 166) paintwork with red (DB 1088) leather upholstery. Generously equipped with options, including an automatic transmission, power steering, Becker Mexico radio, passenger headrest, and Goodyear whitewall tires, the new Mercedes-Benz was an incredibly expensive and glamorous automobile, ideally suited to its famous owner.
During Ms. Fitzgerald’s 37-year ownership, the 300 D was regularly driven and was featured in a famous 1988 portrait of the singer, taken by renowned photographer Annie Leibovitz for an American Express advertisement. Following Ms. Fitzgerald’s passing in 1996, the Mercedes-Benz was sold during her estate auction in Beverly Hills, California, and made its way to Europe, becoming a part of Rolf Meyer’s noted Mercedes-Benz collection in Germany. Over the past decade, the 300 D has been maintained in the care of another passionate Mercedes-Benz collector, who displayed the rare car at several German shows and rallies.
Today, this rare 300 D Cabriolet presents in well-kept condition, with much of its original red upholstery intact and approximately 90,000 miles on the odometer – the vast majority of them accrued during Ms. Fitzgerald’s stewardship. Significantly, the sale is accompanied by an original tool roll and rare factory spare-parts kit, complete with light bulbs, spark plugs, and other roadside repair items. Beyond these features, the 300 D Cabriolet is offered with an impressive file of documentation that includes copies of original Mercedes-Benz factory documents, service and registration records, and a German-language book on Ella Fitzgerald.
Gooding & Company is delighted to offer this extremely rare and desirable Mercedes-Benz – the prized possession of one of the world’s favorite singers for more than three decades. Collectors with an appreciation for exceptional provenance would be wise to give this very special 300 D Cabriolet serious consideration.